This is my original blog – all my blogs  since I started in 2009 - are here including those from The Ale Archive – all the beers I’ve sampled at home and on our travels since 2012.
 
Since 2012 most of our travel has involved a caravan. I now have a specific caravanning blog called (Get Your) Legs Down which not only documents all our trips but includes product reviews, site listings, storage locations, mobile service engineers and much more. It too is on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Camping in the Capital Pt 2 – The Houses of Power

Good morning from a beautifully sunny and autumnal Crystal Palace.  The leaves on the trees (how very Wordsworth) along Crystal Palace Parade are changing colour leaving us in no doubt what season we are in. It’s turned noticeably cooler too, with a definite chill in the air as we walked back from the bus last night.

Anyway, back to Sunday. After sending the last blog on it’s way to it’s various and no doubt ecstatic recipients we had a lazy afternoon drinking tea and devouring a pack of digestives. Friends had arrived after enduring a tortuous journey through South London thanks to a fire and subsequent road closure that added over two hours to their journey from Brighton. We slurped, munched and chatted for a while then headed off to get freshened up for our chosen evenings excursions.

We ended up at another Wetherspoons  - one considerably cheaper than their offering at the NEC – and devoured a couple of Sunday roasts. Not each, mind you, even though we ‘went large’ the plate wasn’t exactly overflowing and clearly there was a supply issue in the carrot department. What’s there was tasty enough though and we both opted for another pint as dessert.

We didn’t stay out long, pausing on the way back to catch the end of the live jazz at the Grape & Grain. A little reconnaissance on the way unearthed a couple of other watering holes to try during the week. ‘Downton Abbey’ on the telly accompanied by some cheese & biscuits and a small (honest) glass of port brought the day to a close.

Monday, and the day of our tour of parliament. The rain stopped long enough for us to get to the bus stop of the usual number 3 but was soon making it’s presence felt us we trundled through Brixton and across Lambeth Bridge and around Parliament Square.

We’d left plenty of time so despite the traffic we had arrived ell ahead of of scheduled tour time and ambled back to Victoria Tower Gardens for a view across the muddy Thames to the south bank and the London Eye to our left.

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Airport style security was in operation and for once it was Trev that set off the buzzer instead of me. Formalities completed we were soon in the The Westminster Hall awaiting the start of the tour. An architectural feat at the time – it’s some 900 years old – it’s still pretty impressive today. The roof was replaced with the current  design in the 14trh Century and remains  the largest hammer beam roof in the world. As well as the main visitor entrance, the hall also hosts state and ceremonial occasions. Apparently as well the usual security sweeps the structural integrity of the massive roof is checked and an inch by inch examination was made when Nelson Mandela visited a few years back. A less thorough check was made when Barack Obama turned up more recently and when the leader of the opposition in Burma appeared, they couldn’t be arsed. True or not it’s a good yarn.

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We visited the robing room where her Maj prepares for the State opening of Parliament. Subtly concealed behind one of the wooden panels is a little cubicle where any pre-match nerves maybe, er, dealt with. A Royal flush presumably. Anyway, next up was the Central Lobby which joins the two houses (Lords & Commons) together. The Central lobby is open to the public and is a place to meet your MP – in fact if you turn up here – and he or she is in the house – they are obliged to come and see you. It is also a popular spot for nightly news reports although is much smaller than it looks on the telly.

The Lords Lobby and chamber were next. Two voting lobbies run along either side of the main debating chamber and attendees walk from one side or the other depending on which way they vote. The Lords chamber, whilst similar to the Commons is distinguishable by the colour of the seating. Red. Not to mark any political affiliation but to indicate the (then) superior status and power of the Lords. Red was (and apparently still is) more difficult and expensive to reproduce. Along with blue. Interesting that our two main political parties, who both claim to represent ‘the people’ use these colours. Maybe that tells you all you need to know. Or maybe not.

Almost last was the Commons chamber. It was great to stand in there, in the very place where political debates have raged for hundreds of years. If you go on a tour – and I highly recommend it – you will be surprised how small the chamber is. Visitors are allowed to come and watch debates from the public gallery – in either house – and although now separated by a sheet of Perspex the atmosphere, our guide said,  can be electric. I don’t doubt it and would love to come again one day.

Sadly photography was banned almost everywhere. I’m normally happy to ignore rules like this, but with armed police in every corner it seemed better for my health to comply. So, we’ve cheated another way. The photo’s you see – of the interior anyway are taken from the guide book. I’m sure there’s some copyright issue here but what the hell!

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The tour last about 90 minutes and I can thoroughly recommend it – but book through your MP like us and you won't have to pay. Our guide was entertaining and informative. And having toured the parliament buildings in both Australia and New Zealand some years ago, it was nice to finally see our own – the place and set up on which most democracies are based in some form or other. 

We had hoped to join our MP for tea and a chinwag on the terrace overlooking the Thames, but constituency business back in Brighton meant that her had to cancel. The rain had ceased as we emerged back on to the street and headed over Westminster Bridge to grab some photo’s before joining the number 3 bus back to the site.

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Tuesday, and a pretty chilled day, the only excursion being to the shopping parade late afternoon, once the rain had ceased to procure some of those bits and bobs that you always seem to need when caravanning. Plastic storage tubs where top of the list – oh the excitement – but having taken the car up we resisted the lure of an afternoon pint, knowing full well that it wouldn’t have stopped at one!

Wednesday brought with it more rain but the skies were clearing as headed in to town again, this time for a afternoon play along the Strand.  WE hopped off the faithful number 3 at Whitehall and waited for the number 11 that would take us up around Trafalgar Square and along the Strand. WE new from previous visits that the new ‘Route Master’ buses could be found on this route and sure enough one pulled up. We boarded at the front, and headed upstairs only to find there was no seating left and came down the back stairs. Our experience was short lived as the driver announced that there was severe traffic delays due to roadwork's up ahead and we’d be better off walking – which we did. We were on the bus less that two minutes!

Having located the theatre – and it did only take five minutes – we adjourned to a pub nearby for a sarnie and some research. The research took it’s toll in the first half of the play as I nearly nodded off. The second half was better but not one of our favourites. For the record, it was ‘The Lady Killers’ and I’m glad the tickets were half price.

We met a friend for some grub and grog after the show at the pub we’d had lunch in. Interestingly the clientele had changed almost entirely from tourists to suits with ties dangling at half mast or completely absent. It was also a lot noisier and we moved on elsewhere and had a good nosh and catch up.

So, there we are, up to date again. The sun remains out and with a rotten day forecast for tomorrow we’re going to get the awning down later on, before our departure on Saturday. An evenings ‘research’ has been mooted and we have tickets for ‘We Will Rock You’ on Friday night in town. We’ve seen it before, although over ten years ago, but thoroughly enjoyed it.

See ya!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Camping in the Capital Pt 1 – A day out in ‘Brum

Good morning from a (currently) sunny but very autumnal Crystal Palace Caravan Club Site. I say currently – there was lots of rain during the night and with a strong wind the skies look anything but settled. Still, at the moment it’s very nice and with Patsy warm and cosy and bellies full from a bbq’d breakfast all is good in our little corner of the world.

Right, catch up time. Friday and with Patsy now in storage making sure we had everything we needed took a little more thought. The essentials like water carriers and so on had been left with her ladyship. Bigger stuff like the awnings were in the garage whilst some stuff had appeared in the flat. In a way it was much easier when she was on the drive when you could just go back and forth but we probably ending up going away with much more stuff than needed.

Anyway, we arrived at the storage compound soon after 9am and I busied myself checking the tyre pressures and wheel nuts whilst Trev took care of the inside. With no mains hook up the on board battery was virtually flat and unable to power the tyre inflator. Not an issue really as we always camp on sites with electric hook up anyway.

A little after 10am we were on the road again – resisting the lure of the roadwork's at Handcross and heading instead up the A24, cutting across to the A23 near Gatwick.

We normally swap over driving duties once we get inside the M25 but I decided to carry on as I’d never hauled Patsy through the South London traffic before. No major dramas with only a couple of drivers choosing to vent their displeasure with the use of  horn. I also elicited a glare of pure hatred from some impatient tool in a white Merc at the roundabout near the site who clearly didn’t like his progress being impeded for a few seconds, despite the fact that I indicated AND it was my right of way. I glared back but my hands were too preoccupied with the steering wheel to issue a more visual response!

The warden recognised us from our last visit and was as welcoming and helpful as always, even managing to secure us a pitch over new year. More about that at some point.

Having been on the lovely grassed area at the front last time we were hoping to get a similar spot but that was now closed for the winter – for obvious reasons. Instead we were placed down the end I dubbed the council estate last time – serves me right I guess. However it’s a small site here and with recent pitch reorganisation club wide, pitches were even more limited. We were just happy to be here.

There was no one on the pitch opposite so it made my intention to reverse Patsy in to position using the car a lot easier. With the stabiliser disengaged and Trev directing operations at the rear I eased her in and got her reasonably in line with the pitch marker first time. I know I was lucky and it’s something I need to practice a lot more but was still pleased with myself.

So Patsy was in position but having unhitched and pulled the car away, a glance at the spirit level in the window indicated that she was listing a bit too starboard. A ramp was needed but there still wasn’t enough life in the battery to operate the motor mover. However a few minutes hooked up to the mains and her ladyship was soon level. The wheels were chocked and the legs wound down.

The small awning travelled with us this time, the thinking being that it wouldn’t be warm enough to sit out, but it’s stayed pretty mild so far and the larger one may have been worthwhile. A foray to the nearby supermarket was the only excursion of the day and bbq’d burgers with salad and wedges provided the necessary sustenance later on.

Saturday, and an early start for the days excursion. To Birmingham. Yes, you read it right. Our week away coincided with the Caravan & Motorhome show at the NEC, so soon after 6am the kettle was on and Trev was making sarnies. Our visit was twofold – first to look at caravans – obviously – the 2014 models were on display so it would be interesting to see what the manufacturers had come up with. Secondly – and more importantly there was to be a meet up of fellow Twitterers for a beer or two.

It was fair to say that I didn’t feel tip top first thing. The Fullers Bengal Lancer IPA had proved a lovely accompaniment to the burgers but was a little too potent. A large mug of tea, some breakfast and a steaming hot shower eased the sluggishness a little.

The train to Birmingham went from Euston, north of the river so various modes of transport were employed. The number 3 bus took us to Brixton underground station and the tube took us from there to Euston. As usual we’d allowed plenty of time and arrived well early, but having bought the cheapest rail tickets – as per usual – taking an earlier train was not permitted without considerable financial penalty. I used the spare time to replenish my wallet while Trev waited for the platform number for our train to appear.

Of course my unofficial nom de plume on Twitter and the like is ‘The Blogger in Black’ so it was important that I went suitably attired – not exactly a hardship given my rampant melanophilia! I did contemplate briefly donning my trusty trench coat ensuring that I’d be recognised – at least by fellow tweeters – but previous experience of the Caravan Show  in February  suggested that I’d  melt given that it was likely to be as hot as a sauna - though without the naked men. Sadly.

Well, it was as hot as expected though a little less busy than we feared. We avoided most of the smaller accessory stall this time, pausing only to look at the stand demonstrating the inflatable awnings – one of which we bought a little while ago. Quite a crowd had gathered as one of the salesmen demonstrated how easy they were to erect. He was happily pumping away (stop sniggering at the back please) when there was an almighty bang and one side of the awning began to sag. This brought a round of applause from the onlookers but the salesman was not amused. The problem seemed to be that the the covering protecting the air tubes had been unzipped he said accusingly, causing the the tube to over inflate. Correct of course but embarrassing for the company all the same.

We looked at new models from Swift, Bailey, a few dealer specials and of course Coachman who made Patsy. Some great looking vans and some eye watering prices too. We checked out the Hobby stand, hoping to see what the German manufacturer had to offer – and to see why pik-sorry travellers like them so much, but only motorhomes were on show.

Twitter beer o’clock was set for 2.30pm but with aching feet and  growing thirst we headed to the rendezvous point early. Queued up for nearly half an hour, paid the most I’ve EVER paid for beer at a Wetherspoons – that includes airports – and eventually grabbed a seat. The first of our fellow caravanning tweeters – or should that be twittering caravanners – showed up a little while later and soon there were ten of us enjoying a beer and some fresh air on the terrace. It was great to catch up with David, Amanda & Allison again, who we’d met up with at Twittercamp in the summer and say hello for the first time – in the flesh at least – to Vicky, Leslie, Helen, Stephen & Daniel. We all introduced ourselves via our twitter monikers and conversation was easy and relaxed and yes, caravans were mentioned occasionally too. Plans  for Twittercamp 2014 were hatched and although nothing has been decided we hoping to put together a meet sometime in April somewhere up the A1. Will obviously keep you posted – the more that can come the merrier.

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Our time together was great fun but all too brief and it was soon time to say goodbye. We scurried off to the train station via a slight detour to relieve our aching bladders. A bit of shut eye on the train helped revive us a little and the day out ended with a lovely burger and pint at the Grape & Grain in Crystal Palace. They have a mixture of twelve real ales and ciders on hand pumps here so clearly another visit – for research of course – is essential.

You may have already noted the lack of many pictures. I took our little compact to the show, not wanting to lug the DSLR around. Sadly the cameras’ memory card doesn't fit the card slot on the new laptop – what a muppet I am for not checking. Thanks to David for letting me use his photo of us all.

So a late afternoon Sunday lunch beckons, or we may just pig out. Tomorrow we have a visit to the Houses of Parliament – and I will be taking the big camera for that! Someone at work wanted to give me a rucksack to carry in too. Can’t imagine what would be in it…….

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Flat – Week Six

Yippee! Last day before half term. I haven’t got so excited about the end of school since, well, when I was at school. Anyway, the latest update:

The bed arrived this morning and we can’t wait to er, try it. Our other old thing is now in bits and at the dump. It served it’s purpose well as a spare but was hardly the last word in comfort.

Keen observers will notice the black headboard. I should point out that’s it’s fake leather. Real wasn’t an option. Sadly. All we are waiting for here now is the tops for the bedside units.

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Last Friday we hired a van and picked up the sofas and in doing so emptying the storage unit and stopping the meter running on that particular expense. The rental company gave me a long wheel base as that’s all they had so we only had to make one trip. We were both dreading trying to get them up the stairs and around corners but it went as well as we could have hoped. The only scuff marks were on us, and yes the sofas are black leather – at least some parts anyway!

Just the fire and surround to come and that’s due tomorrow.

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Various picture now adorn the walls, some new some old and our travel maps now have their place in the hall. Friends will know of the world map from ‘Border Control’ but facing it we now have a British Isles map, soon to show places visited in Patsy. To come is a European map ready for our big trip next year, all being well.

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So, what’s left. Well the change in the weather this week has given us a reminder of the one thing the flat lacks – heating. The old dear downstairs helps out by having her flat like an oven all day bless her but that ain’t going to be enough. We’ve opted for panel heaters which I’ll order next week. Cheaper than having central heating installed – and tidier since any pipes would have to be surface mounted – although running costs remain to be seen. One thing we are sure of – the flat will be cheaper to heat than Border Control.

So no update next week as we’re back in Patsy up the A23 in Crystal Palace. Look out for blogs from there.

The Flat – Week Six

Yippee! Last day before half term. I haven’t got so excited about the end of school since, well, when I was at school. Anyway, the latest update:

The bed arrived this morning and we can’t wait to er, try it. Our other old thing is now in bits and at the dump. It served it’s purpose well as a spare but was hardly the last word in comfort.

Keen observers will notice the black headboard. I should point out that’s it’s fake leather. Real wasn’t an option. Sadly. All we are waiting for here now is the tops for the bedside units.

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Last Friday we hired a van and picked up the sofas and in doing so emptying the storage unit and stopping the meter running on that particular expense. The rental company gave me a long wheel base as that’s all they had so we only had to make one trip. We were both dreading trying to get them up the stairs and around corners but it went as well as we could have hoped. The only scuff marks were on us, and yes the sofas are black leather – at least some parts anyway!

Just the fire and surround to come and that’s due tomorrow.

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Various picture now adorn the walls, some new some old and our travel maps now have their place in the hall. Friends will know of the world map from ‘Border Control’ but facing it we now have a British Isles map, soon to show places visited in Patsy. To come is a European map ready for our big trip next year, all being well.

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So, what’s left. Well the change in the weather this week has given us a reminder of the one thing the flat lacks – heating. The old dear downstairs helps out by having her flat like an oven all day bless her but that ain’t going to be enough. We’ve opted for panel heaters which I’ll order next week. Cheaper than having central heating installed – and tidier since any pipes would have to be surface mounted – although running costs remain to be seen. One thing we are sure of – the flat will be cheaper to heat than Border Control.

So no update next week as we’re back in Patsy up the A23 in Crystal Palace. Look out for blogs from there.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Flat – Week Five

We have carpet! We have chairs! We have a telly!

The carpet went down a day earlier than originally planned. The company rang us Tuesday asking if they could come in a day earlier. Slight panic and a stream of expletives followed but we decided to go ahead – and very good it looks too.

The fitters hadn’t even finished before we scuttled off to the storage unit to pick up our old but serviceable and VERY comfortable black leather (obviously!) recliners. It was so nice to sit in them again.

Another shopping expedition on Friday, this time for some more linen and curtains but otherwise a day off from DIY’ing.

Saturday was spent going backwards and forwards to the lock up for various bits and bobs including the telly, and the pine corner units which look great in the hallway.

The telly was retrieved from the storage unit on Sunday, mounted on the wall and switched on for the first time in over two months. All the speakers are up but only the surround sound is operational so far. I’d spent over two hours threading and feeding wires and cable on Sunday afternoon and had had enough. The centre speaker is currently atop a nest of tables in the absence of the fire and surround due next week.

The desk is in place in the office/dining room/2nd bedroom and the whole room is looking very nice indeed – much more traditional in style and a pleasant place to surf porn- sorry, catch up on paperwork…….

So, this week? At some point we will be picking up the sofas and emptying the storage unit. Some of the dining room still needs another coat of paint and we haven’t even started on the smallest room in the house and there’s still lots of bits and bobs to come from the lock up.

Not only that, but the end of next week is half term – which means Patsy  rides again. Our third visit to Crystal Palace will include a tour around the Houses of Parliament – and some long lie-ins hopefully!

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The Flat – Week Four

Another week, another visit to B & Q – or two! Progress continues and there are last seems to be light at the end of the tunnel – although that’s probably a Been & Queued lorry coming the other way….

The last of the plastic skirting board went down today, and very smart it looks too. The rest of the carpet is due Friday, then we can start moving the rest of our stuff in.

Most of the new light fittings are now up – some traditional, some more modern. The ones in the hall have a bit of a delay on them – because they are low voltage via a transformer I guess – and take up to five seconds to come on on from cold once the switch is flicked. Pewter effect switches and sockets are replacing the white plastic ones where visible.

Decorating continues throughout. Nearly two thirds of the hall is done – brilliant white as was on there before, but having little natural light it’s been fun getting even coverage. A coat rack, a picture and a couple of mirrors now adorn the walls.

Most ceilings are done and the lounge walls are looking good in a lovely soft apple white.

A fireplace – coal effect electric - and surround has been ordered and is due in a couple of weeks.

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The Flat – Week 3

We’re in! Yes, actually living here now, or more realistically, sleeping and working. There has been progress but it has been painfully slow at times, not helped by having to work for a living – it always gets in the way doesn’t it!

Anyway, the kitchen continues to be ‘finished’ – od little finicky jobs that seem to keep cropping up. Our bedroom is now complete – ish. Having been immersed in the detritus of flat pack furniture for a couple of days we now have a functional bedroom. It’s not finished – neither of us realised that the tops for the bedside draws have to be ordered separately – and they are not due until November. The bed is an old one from our bungalow – the new one is due in three weeks. There’s a couple of ottomans to come from storage but other than that we’re pretty much there.

The bathroom is usable too. A new blind for the window – rather laboriously swapped for the one in the kitchen because it was a fraction too long – and decorated throughout. I can report that the bath works after a communal dip last night.

The last of the laminate flooring  - in the second bedroom/dining room was ripped up today. That’s almost the last of the real messy stuff thankfully. The making good of the area in the hall where the cupboard was continues and is looking good.

It’s nice to have the broadband back although to be honest I’ve hardly used the PC – there’s always been something to do. The phone line was run through to the lounge today for when we get everything set up properly.

Have been picking up more stuff from the lock up – kitchen gear and most of our clothes are now here, so I’ve got a lot more black to chose from and my trusty leather trench coat will be ready for action on our next trip in Patsy in just over three weeks.

Talking of Patsy, the old girl is now safely in storage, about half an hour a way. We emptied her out last Saturday. It seemed odd to leave her, but she will be safe and secure – and at the price they’re charging she should be.

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So, this week. Wednesday the rest of the skirting board goes down, but we’ve got to wait nearly two weeks for the rest of the carpet. This means that the big stuff that’s in storage will have to stay there  a little longer – and the meter is running there too.

Still, it will all be worth it in the end!

The Flat – Week Two

As promised, another update on our flat and what we’re doing to it:

Monday, and with a fair amount of brute force but much more ignorance, the cupboard in the hall yielded to the club hammer and my temper. Decorating continued in the main bedroom.

Tuesday and Window Workshop were in fitting new mechanisms to the windows, whilst Iain the plumber got cracking on the kitchen. We watched and made the occasional cuppa.

Wednesday. Whilst the plumber finished off we went to Been & Queued with a very long shopping list. Our neighbour and friend Jackie came with us armed with her discount card.  Finally got storage sorted out for Patsy. What with B & Q and the plumber it was an expensive day, and given my aversion to parting with money – unless it’s for essentials like beer and clothes of course – quite a painful one too!

Thursday and the box section thingy in the lounge yielded to my persuasions with the club hammer. Another trip to the dump in what is now a very filthy Jessie. Used some of the wood battens to put some shelves up in the meter cupboard and in doing so dislodged one of the fuse carriers causing  a short circuit and an extremely loud bang and the main fuse to go. No harm done thankfully but frightening at the time.

Friday. More of those little jobs that seem to take for ever. The bedroom furniture arrived in the afternoon.

Saturday. Kitchen finished and blinds back up in the main bedroom too. Discover immersion heater element needs replacing. Something else to add to the never ending shopping list.

Sunday. Curtain rail and curtains up in main bedroom and filled in some of the holes in the concrete floor and started filling the gaps left by the removal of the hall cupboard. Afternoon off – to do this!

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The Flat – Week One

Hmm, what’s this got to do with travel then then? Well, not a lot although, as it happens there is a sort of link. Many will know that we have recently downsized, selling our bungalow - ‘Border Control' - and buying a flat – name yet to be decided. The whole idea is to release cash to fund a year long trip in to Europe in our ‘van as well as having a place that’s easier to lock up and leave and not worry about gardening etc.

There’s things to do in the flat, and as its a while for our next outing in Patsy – 5 weeks & 5 days at the time of typing – not that I’m counting – I thought I’d chronicle our progress in weekly-ish photo updates. So to start things off, photos of the day we got the keys:

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As you can see, laminate flooring everywhere. It’s got to come up – we don’t like it but it’s also against the terms of the lease.

Brilliant white everywhere. That’s going to be softened down a bit and the kitchen needs a decent sink and some units moving around.

So, at the end of the first week, what does it look like:

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Units moved in kitchen – the plumber is due this week to do the rest. The second bedroom is the workshop and store room. The laminate floor and pine skirting board has been removed from the hall and the main bedroom which is being decorated.

This week – all being well -  the cupboard in the hall is coming out to open it up as well as the box section thingy in the lounge. More decoration and removal of the rest of the laminate floor. Windows are having new catches and mechanisms fitted and wardrobes and units for the main bedroom are coming Friday – flat packed. Grrr!

We have got another ten days on site here in Brighton. By then the kitchen and main bedroom should be complete so at least we can move in.

Check back for another progress report soon!